I didn’t quite know what to expect from Michael Elmgreen (b. 1961, Denmark) and Ingar Dragset’s (b. 1969, Norway) latest exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, mainly because I hadn’t come across any of their work before. I love that about living in a city like London. There is so much creativity, and talent from around the world.
Fortunately for me I was in for a real treat because, ‘This Is How We Bite Our Tongue‘ is an incredibly thought provoking exhibition. It delves into so many themes that resonate with where we are at in today’s society. Ideas around social responsibility, childhood, sexual identity, capitalism are all covered throughout the show.
Upon entering the gallery I was transported to the inside of a public swimming pool. The commission entitled ‘The Whitechapel Pool ‘, 2018 charts the fictional rise and subsequent demise of a public pool founded in 1901. As a spectator, you look upon this pool, now dirty and emptied of water with a sense of nostalgia. Like you missed out on all the fun of days gone by. Like that feeling you get as Autumn starts to creep in after the long hot nights of Summer. This was once a space of life and activity, and now it is just a shell, a skeleton. Elmgreen & Dragset perfectly express their feeling towards the loss of civic space in communities bearing the brunt of gentrification. It’s a another reminder of who really pays the price of government cuts and policy.
Another couple of great works with a similar subject matter were the pieces ‘Some stayed on while others left’, 2018 and ‘I must make amends‘, 2018. The latter, a bronze cast of a Mercedes car seat is a nod to societies ongoing obsession with material goods. This idea of what is considered a luxury item now looking considerably out of place, discarded by the side of a disused swimming pool in East London. Like a fall from grace in some way. How one man’s luxury, is another man’s trash.
Another wonderful work entitled, ‘Gay Marriage’, 2010 forms part of a series of works dating back to 2004 which cover the theme of marriage. This piece has an historical reference to the criminalisation of homosexuality throughout history via the image of the public toilet, while also carefully depicting the intricacies of a same sex union via the intertwined drainpipes.
Other pieces upstairs that depict similar topics of sexulaity include, ‘Powerless Structures, Fig. 19‘, 1998, ‘Untitled‘, 2014 and, ‘Reversed Crucifix‘, 2016 the latter with an obvious nod to Christianity.
The exhibition feels rather small in the grande scheme of things. Where the downstairs gallery packs a punch, you feel like something is missing a little bit upstairs. It was only post visit where the true meaning of everything really came together for me, and I understood how remarkable the collection of works really is. It is cleverly thought out, and shows the thought process of these two talented and brave artists.
Art Eats Review 6/10
Elmgreen & Dragset: This Is How We Bite Our Tongue runs until the 13th of January 2019.
Address: Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High St, London, E1 7QX
Opening Times: Daily 11am-6pm (Closed Mondays), Thursdays 11am-9pm
Tickets From: £12.95/ £9 concessions